It’s feni season in Goa and the air at Cazulo Fazenda, an over 100-year-old distillery in Cansaulim, is rich with the smell of cashew juice fermenting in clay pots. We are here for the Fruit to Feni experience that is on till the end of May.
Temporarily stepping into the shoes of the cazkars — who traditionally collect the cashew fruit — we troop up the hill to the orchards, armed with short sticks topped by hooks, called kantos. The first rule is to never pick the fruit off the tree. The logic is simple: the ones that have fallen to the ground are the ripest and, hence, bursting with juice and flavour.
Hansel Vaz, the founder of Cazulo Feni, invites me to bite into one with the proviso that I keep it away from my body. Sage advice, as juice spurts from the fruit the moment my teeth sink in.
We tumble the cashews into large stone basins called kolambis, where the nuts are then separated from the fruits. The latter is scattered into a stone pit and we are invited in, with our sandals off, for some fun. With feet slick with juice, we crush the fruits, and the first press is collected in a bucket and sent to be distilled. The pulp is gathered, trussed up with a rope, and placed under a large stone to expel any remaining juice. This secondary run-off is called niro, and is offered freely to the villagers during the season. It’s delicious, as I can testify.
Some urrak, please
The distilled juice from the first press yields one of the true pleasures of feni season in Goa, a spirit called urrak, which has 20% ABV. It has exploded in popularity recently, with even 5-star hotels running cocktail promotions. The preferred way to drink it is with soda and Limca, a dash of salt, and slit green chillies for extra spicy notes.
But the next day, at the tony Miguel’s in Panaji, Nolan Mascarenhas, a local food hound, introduces me to urrak and coconut water. He makes it with his own stash and it’s delicious. The cashew fruit, like the grape, is a child of terroir, and the unique conditions that each is grown in yields very different flavours of urrak.
Meanwhile, stomping done, we gather by the rustic earthen pot still for our reward, an Urrak Classico (with soda and Limca). It has a lovely blue colour from the infusion of Blue Pea flower. Urrak has the rare distinction of being one of the very few, if not the only, first distillates that is drinkable (and delicious).
As we sip our cocktails, the real cazkars emerge — two women, clad from head to toe in protective clothing (because, snakes!), who look upon us in askance as they head up the hill, their experienced eyes no doubt spotting a score more cashews than we did.
Bookings for the Fruit to Feni experience is open at urbanaut.in, at ₹2,000 per person. Tour sizes can be from 10 to 30 people.